RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) on 22 March interviewed two students from Al-Basrah University who were involved in the clashes with al-Sadr militiamen and subsequent demonstrations.
RFI: You were among the students at the Civil Engineering Department picnic last week. Can you tell us what exactly happened at the picnic?
Zaynab (Al-Basrah University student; not her real name): I hope. We arrived at the park, Al-Andalus Park. About an hour after our arrival, we could hear sounds of gunfire.... Then we saw masked men who attacked us with weapons. They were holding sticks in their hands. They came to us, at the place where we were sitting in the park. They started to insult us and swear at us.
RFI: Did you react to the insults?
Zaynab: Yes. [Male] students replied to them. Then they started beating both male and female students. Whoever said a word against them was beaten. Not just beaten, they took mobile phones and girls' gold jewelry.
RFI: What were they beating you with? With sticks, or did they use weapons?
Zaynab: Well, some of the students were shot at. But the tool [of beating] was sticks. Even female students were beaten. Of course, male students did not keep silent. Whoever defended a female student was attacked.
RFI: Were you beaten as well?
Zaynab: Not me. But my female friends were.
RFI: Was it a severe beating or a light one?
Zaynab: No, a very strong beating.
RFI: There was a Christian female student with you who was apparently beaten and is now in the hospital.
Zaynab: Yes, she is now receiving treatment in the hospital. They smashed her head with a pistol butt. She was beaten very severely.
RFI: Why exactly she was beaten so severely?
Zaynab: The main reason is that she is a Christian. Not only that. As she was not wearing a veil (hijab), she was beaten.
RFI: So was she beaten because of not wearing a veil?
Zaynab: Yes. That was the main reason, of course.
RFI: What information do you have on this student? Is she in a critical state?
Zaynab: Well, I heard she was in the hospital. That is all I heard.
RFI: How many more students are currently in the hospital?
Zaynab: Currently, I do not know. But there are some students. And there are some who were released from the hospital after a day or two.
RFI: Have you filed any complaint about what happened to you to the office of the faculty dean or the university president?
Zaynab: Naturally. A day after that, we conducted demonstrations in the university against the act that was committed on us. We would like that someone would support us but no one has stood with us. Even the dean kept quiet.